Young Gaston, an admirer of Booker T. Washington, worked a number of odd jobs, including selling subscriptions for the local black newspaper. Later, he moved to Mobile and became a bellhop. After serving in the army during World War I, Gaston came home and took a job at the Tennessee Coal and Iron Co. Always looking for opportunities, he began selling box lunches (prepared by his mother) and peanuts and lending money to workers at the TCI plant. He started a burial society for the workers, too, which eventually acquired a mortuary and became Smith and Gaston Funeral Directors. In 1932, the burial society was incorporated as Booker T. Washington Insurance Co.
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